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Tennessee Starts Cold, But Finished Hot

 

The way this game played out in the 1st half, you had to wonder if the Vols would hold the ball for over ten minutes. The Wildcats started their first drive of the game at the Vols 25-yard line, and went on a methodical 17 play drive that made Tennessee’s defense look like they left their game plan in Knoxville. Lynn Bowden Jr. was in complete control of the Eddie Gran playbook, and Tennessee couldn’t stop it.

After Kentucky blocked a Paxton Brooks punt that setup Kentucky with fantastic field position, it didn’t take long for the wildcats to strike again. Kavosiey Smoke ran for 22 yards and put Kentucky up 13-0, still in the first quarter. If you were a Tennessee fan, this was not the start you were hoping for, especially with Brian Maurer returning to the starting lineup.

Maurer, who started the game for the Vols, had a few passes in the 1st half that made you understand why fans were enamored with his arm strength & ability to quickly get rid of the football. Unfortunately for Tennessee, only getting 3 points on four possessions didn’t give the coaching staff enough confidence in him sparking the team in the 2nd half.

Kentucky finished the first half with 185 yards rushing, while keeping the football for 21:26. The Vols only had 136 yards, and with a half filled with bad penalties, throws & costly mistakes, Jeremy Pruitt decided to make a change.

Enter Jarrett Guarantano, who made his presence known pretty quickly in the 2nd half. The Vols stormed out of the locker room with a purpose, and it showed right after receiving the kickoff. Jarrett Guarantano led Tennessee to a 7 play, 75 yard drive that ended with a TD pass to Marquez Callaway that setup the comeback.

 

After holding Kentucky to a 3 & out on the next series, Tennessee got the ball back and JG went back to work. The Vols went on a 7 play, 68 yard drive that was finished off with a beautiful catch from Josh Palmer that should definitely make a top-10 list. It was this drive that gave Tennessee the lead and ended up being the game winning touchdown.

After getting gashed in the 1st half by the Kentucky run game, something flipped for the Tennessee defense. Enter Daniel Bituli, who was the defining leader of this Vols defense. The senior was all over the field on Saturday night, especially in the 2nd half. Bituli finished the game with 19 total tackles, 10 of those solo. It was Daniel’s presence and prowl on the field that helped lead this defense to a 2nd half shutout.

The Tennessee defense at times were put into situations that looked to be leading to Kentucky scores, but they never gave in. The Vols stopped Kentucky on three straight series that were ended on 4th downs. This defensive group never let the Wildcats into the end-zone in the 2nd half, which was a complete flip from what had occurred in the 1st half.

This play by Nigel Warrior was a perfect summation of the pressure they were putting on Bowden in the final 30 minutes.

After the Vols gave up a sloppy turnover during a handoff sequence between Guarantano & Ty Chandler, it was the defense that was needed one last time to put the game away. Kentucky got the football at the Tennessee 45-yard line & went on a 43-yard drive that landed them at the 2-yard line, with a chance to win the game.

It was 4th & Goal, Vols were up 17-13 and Kentucky had a chance to punch it in to take the lead, possibly winning the game. But, the Tennessee defense stood up one more time and stopped Lynn Bowden at the 2-yard line. Just when you thought Kentucky was going to sneak one out in Lexington, the Vols defense had other plans, and it showed.

This wasn’t the prettiest win, but it was a gritty win. Tennessee needed JG to takeover, he did that, in a flashy way. Tennessee needed their defense to step up in the 2nd half, they did, in a profound way. The Vols have now made it through a six game stretch without a break, finishing 4-2. Tennessee will now get a bye week, a time to heal up & get ready for the finish.

If the last six games have taught Tennessee fans anything, it’s don’t give up on this team. The players have let fans know they haven’t given up either, and now are one win away from bowling, two wins away from potentially doing that in Florida. Buckle up folks, it’s going to be a wild finish to 2019.

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